The world of appeals is a perplexing place. Not only are appeals expensive and lengthy, appeals are also subject to stringent guidelines. Many times clients have come to me seeking an appeal but it will be too late.
I have seen the appellate court reject an appeal many times due to the lack of a final judgment being rendered. A party will file an appeal only to be told that the trial court order was not a Final Order, therefore the appellate court does not have jurisdiction.
This is exemplified in a divorce proceeding in Talladega County, Alabama, in the case of Curtis v. Curtis. The husband filed an action for divorce in 2011. The trial court entered a Pendente Lite Order granting temporary custody of the of the parties’ children to the wife and directed the husband to pay certain expenses.
Following the commencement of the divorce proceeding, the trial court held a total of nine evidentiary hearings between October 2013 and May 2014. In October 2014, the wife filed a motion seeking to hold the husband in contempt for alleged violations of the trial courts Pendente Lite Order.
On December 15, 2014, the trial court entered a divorce judgment. In regards to the divorce judgment, the trial court awarded the wife $5,863.40 for “sums which have been previously ordered by the Court in the Pendente Lite Hearing and which have not been paid by the husband.”
Following the judgment, the husband filed a post-judgment motion in which he argued, in part, that the wife was not entitled to the relief awarded on her contempt claims. The trial court issued a revised judgment on July 28, 2015, but the wife’s contempt claim was not addressed therein. Accordingly, the husband appealed asking the trial court to vacate the December 15 judgment because, he contended, that it conflicted with the revised judgment entered on July 28, 2015.
The Court of Civil Appeals dismissed the appeal. The Court held that the trial court never ruled on the wife’s contempt complaint. Therefore, the appellate court lacked jurisdiction over this appeal. Specifically, the Court held that they only have jurisdiction over claims of final judgments which was not the situation for the case at hand.
Accordingly, because the trial court’s judgment completely fails to completely resolve all the claims of the parties, it is not a final judgment. A final judgment is one that disposes of all claims and controversies between the parties. Heaston v. Nabors, 889 So. 2d 588, 590 (Ala. Civ. App 2004). Therefore, the appellate court correctly decided it did not have jurisdiction and the appeal was dismissed.
Unfortunately for the husband in this case, appeals are an expensive and lengthy process. When considering filing for an appeal, one should seek out an experienced appellate attorney, one who will critically and exhaustively examine the trial court record.